The date 24 September 2018 has now been added to the Wolong Class of 2006’s history book. As of that date, all 14 surviving cubs of the 19 born in Wolong Panda Base that year have turned 12 years old and completed one Chinese astrological cycle, an important milestone, even more so for giant pandas.
The Wolong Class of 2006 is a group of pandas very dear to my heart because our myPanda parents, Fu Wa and Feng Yi, are from this group. That is why this post is published here.
By today’s standards, 19 cubs born in a panda base in one year is nothing to shout about; it is less than half the number born at the three CCRCGP panda bases in 2017. But back then, Wolong was the only CCRCGP captive breeding base; Ya’an Bifengxia, set up in 2003 to be home to half the Wolong population and to reduce the risk of having the population wiped out by a possible epidemic, would only become a breeding base after Wolong was extensively damaged in the 2008 earthquake, and Shenshuping in Gengda would not become a reality for another eight years.
So 19 cubs born in one year in the only CCRCGP captive breeding base was a big deal in those days. 2006 was also another record breaking year for Wolong’s captive births; with an increase of four cubs over the previous year and 13 cubs the year before, the 19 births were proof of the captive breeding programme’s on-going commitment and contribution to increasing the giant panda population. As captive births continued to increase in the following years, The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) was able to announce a change in the giant panda’s status from “Endangered” to “Vulnerable” in 2016.
The birth of these 19 cubs inspired an online naming competition for the 17 surviving cubs. It also led to an invitation to participate in the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics; for this, eight cubs (including our myPandas Fu Wa and Feng Yi) were selected to live in Beijing Zoo during the 2008 Summer Olympics to showcase the success of China’s giant panda captive breeding programme.
” … an online naming competition for the 17 surviving cubs.” Yes, not all of the 2006 Wolong cubs survived, a harsh reality in the giant panda world where newborns are less than 200g at birth. For the Wolong Class of 2006, five of them would not survive to see their 12th birthday. Of the five, two of them did not survive beyond four days, one of them due to birth defects that included a harelip, and the other whose existence was unknown to me until I went through my panda database for this blog post. For the longest time, I thought there were 18 cubs born in Wolong when in fact, there were 19. Two more cubs from 2006 died before their second birthday, while the fifth died when he was 4 years old.
Of the 14 Wolong 2006 cubs that are now 12-year-old adult pandas, eight have become parents, seven of them mothers, including our own myPanda Feng Yi, and one sole father, our myPanda Fu Wa, the only male panda from their year to have successfully participated in the breeding programme.
Of those that are not parents, the majority are living somewhere in China, having been sent to live in zoos and animal parks with no breeding facilities. While these single pandas may not have contributed to China’s giant panda conservation efforts, they are serving another important function in the world of giant panda conservation: education through being on exhibit.
China is a big country and not everyone can see giant pandas if the pandas remain in their home province of Sichuan. Thus, in order for more people to see their country’s national treasure, pandas are sent out on exhibit, which help to educate and encourage thinking and discussions, not just about giant pandas, but other animals, too.
The 14 surviving pandas from the Wolong Class of 2006 are now scattered far and wide, not just in China but also outside of China; while myPanda papa Fu Wa is in Malaysia with his mate Feng Yi, his twin sister Fu Ni lives with her mate Wang Wang (class of 2005) in Adelaide Zoo, Australia. Fortunately, there is a group photo from early 2006, when they were around six months old, on the grounds of Wolong Panda Base.
The same photo was used as the backdrop in an elaborate ceremony on 10 February 2007 when the 17 (+ 1) cubs received their official names and were then transferred from the nursery to the kindergarten.